The public, too, enjoyed a Christmas and New Year’s break from the political fallout after December’s acrimonious failure to broker a deal to restore devolution and power-sharing.
Later this week, however, the first tentative efforts of the year will be made to find a resolution to the stalemate — with the Irish government saying it is pledged to work for a breakthrough.
The Irish minister for foreign affairs, Dermot Ahern, said his government would not contemplate any break in efforts to find agreement due to the dangers of allowing matters to drift.
“From the first day of January, our officials will be back working on this,” Ahern said last week. “I think an agreement will happen one way or another. It behooves everyone to compromise on the issues they are holding steady on.”
Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary, Paul Murphy, expressed disappointment in his New Year’s message that devolved government had not returned, although, he said, he was encouraged by “the huge steps we have taken toward getting the Assembly and its institutions back up and running.”
“I firmly believe that in the New Year we must channel all our efforts into taking those final few steps together to return power to locally elected politicians,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein’s Mitchel McLaughlin has described the DUP’s demand for photographic evidence of IRA decommissioning as not being about weapons.
“It is all about avoiding power-sharing with republicans,” he said. “The conduct of the negotiations involving the leaderships of both David Trimble and Ian Paisley should leave neither government under any illusion that so-called decommissioning was other than a ploy by unionists to slow down the process of change. It was never about guns.”
The Sinn Fein chairman said Paisley, the DUP leader, “was always going to erect obstacles and make unrealizable demands” in order to avoid engaging in all-Ireland structures and power-sharing.
“If successful in these demands, then he has a never-ending shopping list that would frustrate the most accommodating among us,” said McLaughlin, adding that the two governments had made a “major blunder” during negotiations.
Paisley had, he said, capitalized on their mistake in inserting an expectation of photographs in the first place. “It is, therefore, the responsibility of the governments to disavow Ian Paisley and his party from any notion that this demand is achievable,” he said.
Sniping between the DUP and Ulster Unionists has continued with both parties accusing each other of capitulating to Sinn Fein demands. After the UUP’s Sir Reg Empey said the DUP had conceded republican demands for speaking rights in the Dail, Paisley gave a furious riposte.
“The Ulster Unionist Party resorts to the depths of lies and deceit when it has nothing left to offer the unionist people”, he said. “Reg Empey has accused us of advancing the all-Ireland agenda when he knows full well the conveyor belt of concessions the UUP conceded.”